Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Reno Acts in Dispute between Town, Gays

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Reno Acts in Dispute between Town, Gays

Article excerpt

ATTORNEY GENERAL Janet Reno ordered Justice Department mediators into their first case of anti-gay harassment and threats - in a tiny town in southern Mississippi where residents led by Baptist ministers are trying to close a feminist camp run by two lesbians.

Two mediators from the Justice Department's Community Relations Service arrived Friday in Ovett, Miss. - population 400 - after Reno wrote to a gay-rights group, "I consider the threat of violence in Ovett to be real."

Reno's order was the latest sign of the Clinton administration's sensitivity to gay issues. Earlier in the week, President Bill Clinton wrote a letter opposing state and local referendums designed to block gay civil rights.

Wanda Henson, 39, and Brenda Henson, 48, set up Camp Sister Spirit on a 120-acre former pig farm outside Ovett. Last month, they received a handwritten threat in the mail, and Reno ordered the FBI to investigate. Mailing such a threat could be a federal offense. They also have received threats over the telephone and have locked the camp entrance, a lavender cattle gate.

The two women, who consider themselves married, have about 20 women in residence helping rebuild the farm. They want to hold workshops on sexual harassment and abuse and women's legal rights.

"The situation in Ovett has clearly been dangerous since the time a dead dog was hung on the Hensons' mailbox and town meetings were held denouncing the women and pledging to drive them from town," said Peri Jude Radecic, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The task force began seeking Reno's help in December.

That month, 250 people turned out in Ovett to hear speakers express concern that the lesbians would recruit their daughters.

"It's taught against in the Scriptures," said Ray Thornton of the Baptist Ministry Association of Mississippi.

Last month, 350 people gathered in nearby Ellisville at a meeting organized by the Rev. …

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